Assam cleft-lip centre helps neighbours

After performing corrective surgeries on over 6,000 children in the past two years, NGO Operation Smile India's Comprehensive Cleft Care Centre here is now reaching out to those in need in other parts of the northeast and neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar.

The centre is one of the three the NGO runs in India to take care of cleft lips and other related deformities like palate deformities, as also dental and nutritional problems and speech therapy among children free of cost.

'We are planning to reach out to the thousands of children with cleft lips and palate deformities in at least two states in the northeast region and three neighbouring countries - Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar,' Centre director Mahesh Deuri said.

'While we have already contacted the Meghalaya government and received a response from them. Talks have been initiated with the neighbouring countries through the respective consulates of those countries,' Deuri added.

Deuri plans to launch the first cleft-lip mission in Meghalaya by August. The Centre was established in 2010 in the campus of the Mahendra Mohan Chouhdury Hospital in Guwahati, through the efforts of Operation Smile India, the Assam government, the National Rural Health Mission and the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and its allied trusts.

The Assam government provides free accommodation and also bears the travel expenses of patients and their caretakers. Besides, the NRHM has also engaged Accrediated Social Health Activists [ASHAs] to identify patients. ASHAs get Rs.50 per patient to bring them to the centre. At Rs.40,000, the operations don't come cheap. So, where does the money come from?

Deuri wouldn't disclose the annual budget as it varies from year to year, but explained: 'We approach our donors every year with an estimate of surgeries. We go ahead when we get a green signal from our donors, which are mainly the Assam government and the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and its allied trusts. For the 2012-13 financial year, our target is to conduct 3,500 surgeries,' Deuri said.

That would entail a staggering Rs. 140 million, but given the generosity of the trusts involved, raising the money shouldn't be much of a problem.

'Initially one surgery and comprehensive care used to cost around Rs. 90,000 as we did not have the economies of scale. Now the cost of an operation has reduced by more than 50 percent as the number of patients has increased,' Deuri said.

The Guwahati centre has eight beds, of which four to five are occupied every day. It has 11 full-time doctors - four plastic surgeons, four anesthesiologists, two pediatricians and a nutritionist. Dentists and speech therapists are also on call.
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